Emissions Nuclear

Total energy independence in 12 years

Stepping aside for a moment from my six-part overview of Prescription for the Planet, I’ll briefly look at another interesting recent book on energy futures.

I’ve just finished reading “Total Energy Independence for the United States: A Twelve-Year Plan (Possible, Affordable, Sustainable)” (2008), by engineer and inventor, Robert M. Wical. It’s an interesting little (108 pg) book, and of relevance to BNC for a number of reasons. First, here is the publisher’s blurb:

The Alternative to Energy Wars Like the One in Iraq

What if the United States could be energy independent? It’s not just a good science fiction plot. In twelve years, the country could be free from its need of foreign oil, not only helping to level the international economic playing field, but also aiding in the repair of the effects of global warming.

Although it will take a Herculean effort, Bob Wical’s two-part Twelve-Years-to-Hydrogen Plan provides a detailed roadmap to change. The oil from phase one will satisfy the nation’s addiction and enhance national security by making the nation self-reliant for its oil supply. Tax revenues from phase one will finance phase two, allowing for the development of a hydrogen fuel infrastructure. Wical’s dual strategy is currently the most cost-effective, expedient, and safest plan publicly available.

Because of the growing tension in the Middle East and the climate changes that the planet has experienced in the past several decades, now is the time to act. Total Energy Independence clearly shows us how a hydrogen-centered plan is possible, affordable, and sustainable, guiding us to a cleaner, more environmentally friendly future.”

With an added note from the author, which summarises the main message quite succinctly:

A 90% Self-Funding Answer to the U.S. Energy Crisis: If you find the solutions to the United States’ energy crisis currently being offered by our politicians to be half-measures sometimes bordering on ridiculous, then you will enjoy reading about the real, practical, viable solution to the U.S. energy crisis offered in ‘Total Energy Independence for the United States‘. We already have enough practically FREE fuel to power the Twelve-Years-to-Hydrogen Plan for 500 to 1,000 years. In the first six years of the plan, the U.S. becomes oil independent. By the end of the twelfth year of the Plan, there will be a hydrogen fuel infrastructure sufficient to power our national transportation fleet. Liquid hydrogen fuel would be available at the pump for 50 cents per gallon. The technology required to implement the Plan already exists and is well-documented. A bonus of the plan is that the approximately 60,000 tons of highly radioactive nuclear waste stored in 125 locations throughout the U.S. will be safely consumed. This will essentially eliminate the problem of disposing of massive quantities of toxic nuclear waste. The plan is also a bargain for taxpayers because it is 90% self-funding. The total cost to implement the plan is estimated to be about $1.5 to $1.75 trillion. In other words, just a little more than the cost of ‘George’s War’.”

As you may have guessed from these two descriptions, one of the key technologies underpinning Wical’s plan is Integral Fast Reactor nuclear power, either as a sodium-cooled fast reactor (e.g. General Electric – Hitachi’s  S-PRISM blueprint) or another GIF-selected design, the lead-cooled STAR-LM (Secure Transportable Autonomous Reactor – Liquid Metal; also being researched at Argonne National Laboratories). What is interesting to me is that Bob Wical seems to have come, independently, to the same conclusion as Tom Blees about the huge potential IFR (a third author has also done this — I’ll review his book soon).

Wical’s plan for achieving oil independence (written with the US in focus, but it’s broadly applicable to many nations which are dependent to a large extent on foreign oil — Australia included), depends on accelerated development and rapid  commercial up-scaling of the following core technologies and infrastructure:

— Integral fast reactors (SFR and LFR) — about 500 over 12 years for the US

in situ conversion processes for oil shales

— electrolysis of water and electrochemical hydrogen compressor

— hydrogen distribution and dispensing systems

— hydrogen-powered automobile and truck technology

proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cells and parallel path magnetic technology

The plan is described as 90% self funding [plenty of details given], due to oil import and military savings and increased fuel-to-wheels efficiency of hydrogen fuel cell technology. 

My overall assessment is that Wical has thought a lot about this plan, and his arguments for the feasibility of a ‘hydrogen economy’ (where hydrogen is the primary liquid fuel energy carrier) are reasonably convincing. You’ll find a lot of literature out there which criticises the ‘hydrogen hype’, and many of the arguments have merit. But it has always struck me that the critics of hydrogen seem to be massively overplaying their hand.

Yes, there are issues with the energy required to compress hydrogen and transport it over long distances, in the large size of storage tanks (due to its lower energy density compared to oil and gas derivatives such as petrol [gasoline] and diesel), and in the added expense in containing hydrogen leakage. But there are also advantages, such as its clean burning property (water is the combustion product), high efficiency of fuel cells (about 2.7 times that of the internal combustion engine), and the great strides being made in electrochemical (not mechanical) compression of hydrogen to 10,000 psi, based on a process with no moving parts!

Time will tell how much of an impact hydrogen has for energy storage and transport in our energy future, compared to alternatives such as metal-combustion (my bet is that the latter will prove to be a superior technology, e.g., due to its avoidance of the chicken-or-the-egg syndrome — no fueling/distribution infrastructure is needed to kick it off) . But I do think that it would be grossly unwise to rule out hydrogen, produced by IFR energy, out on the basis of incompletely formed notions about the economic and technological viability of a hydrogen infrastructure today.

Wical recognises the urgency of dealing with global warming, but his primary motivation is to get the USA unhitched from the OPEC bandwagon as fast as possible. An element of his plan therefore involves a stop-gap exploitation of America’s Rocky Mountains shale oils (short-term Government lease of lands to oil companies), via in situ ‘cooking’ to release oil and gas (it has an EROEI of about 3:1). He envisages about 10-15 million barrels a day being produced by this method, using IFRs as the heat source, for a period of 15-25 years, until the hydrogen economy is fully realised. The danger in this approach is that this source of fossil carbon cannot be exploited if we are to have any chance of keeping CO2 levels to below 350 ppm by the end of this century, and that the ~1 trillion barrels of ultimately recoverable oil from this source will prove too tempting a target to forego, should initial exploitation by successful. My bottom line: there has to be other, better ways, to get the vehicle fleet off foreign oil without opening the Pandora’s box of heavy hydrocarbons, even as a temporary ‘fix’.

 Overall, this is a well-researched, well-written road map for an alternative energy future. I’m fascinated that Wical has, like Blees, concluded that IFRs are the optimal energy source for rapid decarbonization. I have problems with some elements of the 12 year plan, but am quite impressed with the logical, systematic way in which Wical has treated the pathway to large-scale hydrogen-based fuel infrastructre. It’s certainly not pie in the sky. I honestly doubt that we’ll ever have a fully-fledged ‘hydrogen economy’, but I’m now far more convinced than before that hydrogen can, and will, be a useful energy storage and carrier medium for a post-fossil-fuel society.

I recommend you read Total Energy Independence  if you wish to have a broader view of the hydrogen economy, or if you want another perspective on the possibility of IFR as a major future energy source. We need more people like Wical and Blees, who are willing to think big, and fast, on total energy solutions. Governments should start paying more  heed, if they really are honest about tackling climate change and peak oil before the worst in upon us.

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By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

54 replies on “Total energy independence in 12 years”

I can understand promoting nuclear reactors to replace NG and coal used for generating electricity, without creating GHG, but this alone is not going to reduce oil imports.

Then I was stopped at the second point:
“in situ conversion processes for oil shales”.
Seem to have just undone the benefits of nuclear power replacing coal. Can we really imagine 15million barrels/day in 12 years? What about water use? GHG emissions? worse than strip mining coal, tailing waste as bad as coal ash.

If this is to buy time to convert vehicles to hydrogen, why not just build electric vehicles or convert to CNG or manufacture methanol with the “surplus” electricity. Much less new infrastructure, easy to retrofit existing vehicles.

Hydrogen economy? Why? Have to agree with Ted trainer, at least as far as: “The hydrogen economy cannot sustain a high energy economy”

The next time an advocate for a Lead cooled fast reactor comes out, those opposed to a sensible idea will say “not oil shale” not “hydrogen economy”. It’s a shame, because LCF reactors seem to have great merit,and I would like to read more about this topic, thanks for the links.

If we need to buy time to reduce all oil imports fuel rationing seems the only solution that would work in 12 years. By the time LCF reactors are up and running(25years?) we could have 90% of vehicles EV or PHEV using methanol/ethanol as the flex fuel.


Agree Neil, as I said above:

“The danger in this approach is that this source of fossil carbon cannot be exploited if we are to have any chance of keeping CO2 levels to below 350 ppm by the end of this century, and that the ~1 trillion barrels of ultimately recoverable oil from this source will prove too tempting a target to forego, should initial exploitation by successful. My bottom line: there has to be other, better ways, to get the vehicle fleet off foreign oil without opening the Pandora’s box of heavy hydrocarbons, even as a temporary ‘fix’.”

The lead-cooled fast reactor development would be totally independent of choices about hydrogen, but the choice of hydrogen will be dependent on a robust clean energy source, such as IFR, geothermal energy, solar/wind energy storage, etc.


Lead cooling has been talked of for many years, and some long-term experiments on circulating Pb(l) in pipes have been done.

(Can these pipes be considered plumbing? Or does the fact that the lead is not the pipe wall but the liquid inside require us to consider this blumping?)

Lead’s boiling point is very comfortably high; any temperature most people — not including me — might want to operate a reactor at can be maintained with lead that is far below that point.

I say luminal cooling is the way to cool a really usefully hot critical assembly. Light travels through helium, so stuff other than helium can be heated without contact.

(How fire can be domesticated)


You can run fast reactors on a pure lead coolant — the bismuth just makes it somewhat more manageable as it lowers the melting point of the coolant considerably, with the penalty of forming more radioactive Po from neutron capture. I don’t think bismuth is all that rare, it currently sells for about $10/kg (vs $2/kg for lead).

Ironically (given what many like to claim), lead and bismuth is apparently far more corrosive on steel than sodium (which essentially doesn’t react with steel at all), and lead is more toxic.


Barry Brook – we differ greatly on the IFR as I believe renewables can do most of the energy supply however I think that the hydrogen economy is a much better transportation system than boron cars.

I have only just changed to this view as I once was opposed to hydrogen cars almost as much as I am opposed to nuclear power.

I do agree with your objections to the oil shale part of the idea. This would be really bad for many reasons not least the water requirement of oil shale processing. If you made the investment to do this to 10 million barrels per day then it would be very tempting to do just this and keep emitting millions of tons of CO2 processing and using oil shale oil.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell (FCV) cars are just battery electric cars (BEV) with a chemical battery instead of a solid state battery and this was my main objection to them – why would anyone choose a messy less efficient chemical battery over a solid state battery like Lithium? After a lot of thinking an episode of Top Gear crystallised these ideas. I once talked to a FCV enthusiast at length (he got a dose of Ender fatigue as well:-)) and it boiled down to the main advantage of an FCV is that the User Experience of an FCV most closely resembles a normal car. That is when you run out of hydrogen you go down to the local hydrogen station and fill up exactly like a normal car. Until recently I did not think that was sufficient reason. However after watching the Top Gear episode ( where James May drives a Clarity FCV I did not realise how overwhelming that user experience is. I now realise that the FCV stands a far greater chance of user acceptance than the BEV so I support them now rather than opposing them as I did before.

Now the FCV is not for everyone and my best scenerio is battery electric commuter cars for 100km to 200km trips and FCVs where you need the longer range. Perhaps the ideal car is the FCV plug in hybrid.

Another thing to consider is the main problem with liquid hydrogen is boil off. You could not leave your liquid hydrogen FCV for two weeks while you went on holiday as it would be empty when you returned. It would take a massive leap in insulation to make the boil off low enough for a practical car.

Finally just substitute solar/wind/geothermal for IFR and I would say that this book is closer to the answer than Prescription for the Planet. At least FCVs are in pre-production prototype stage as are mass-market electric cars and plugin hybrids.


In addition to the above I can really use hydrogen. If someone else, say the oil companies, start producing it from renewable sources and provide a distribution system then this will be a real boon for renewables. Hydrogen is quite a good energy storage system and will act as the fuel for the peaking plants that are required.

Also just quietly a large amount of renewable (or nuclear for nuclear proponents) produced stored hydrogen that has two purposes and will be partly paid for by someone else would be a boon for any IFR rollout as again it will fuel the required peaking plants.

This is another reason I have hopped on the FCV bandwagon.


I can understand why the oil companies see HFC vehicles as a replacement of their sunken costs, and keeping the price of NG high.

Here is a more critical view of the Honda Clarity

“Some illustrative math: It takes about 60 kilowatt-hours of electricity to gin a kilogram of hydrogen from water. The FCX Clarity’s tank holds about 4 kilograms of H2, and that gives it a range of about 270 miles on 240 kWhs.
The all-electric Tesla Roadster has a 53-kWh lithium-ion battery and a range of 220 miles. So the Tesla’s per-mile costs in electricity are roughly one-quarter what they are in the FCX Clarity.’
Dan goes on to comment about costs
“Of the 200 FCX Claritys that Honda intends to build, it will lease almost all of them in Southern California. The carmaker won’t say what the program-cost for the vehicle is, but I estimate about $400 million, which pencils out to $2 million per vehicle. That makes my four-door test car the most valuable automobile I’ve ever driven by a margin of about one whole Ferrari 430.”
That sums it up nicely, low efficiency and high costs! If we had only vehicles endorsed by TOP GEAR we would have definitely passed peak oil decades ago( or maybe we would all use public transport). I like the TOP GEAR program, but it’s a bit of spoofing of the small boy instincts most males have.


Neil – “I like the TOP GEAR program, but it’s a bit of spoofing of the small boy instincts most males have.”

I love Top Gear now after I realised it was a comedy show not a car show. The point is, as I said on Green Car Congress, the most efficient vehicle may not be chosen by the driving public. The Top Gear presenters represent the average mug driver and what James said about the Clarity is true. It is like a normal car and that is what will sell it eventually.

I would have a Tesla or Aptera in a heartbeat as I realise how little driving I actually do and either of these cars will do me fine. The point is hydrogen electric cars are better than no electric cars. If the general public will not voluntarily buy battery electric cars then I for one would be happy with them buying FCVs.

Its not a question of efficiency it is what the punters will buy and how the companies will market them. If efficiency sells we would all have OS X or even OS/2 not Windows however Microsoft got where it is today by selling what the public wanted not the tech heads. I had two losses as I am a Novell person as well and just shut down a Netware 6.5 system for a technically inferior Windows system.


Isn’t it true that the energy volume density of hydrogen is abysmal, and the energy costs of high-pressure compression or liquefaction are quite high? Hydrogen is also a problem in terms of embrittlement of pipes, pressure vessels, etc. For these reasons, hydrogen should be regarded as a fairly poor choice as an energy carrier, no? What are the arguments that override these vexing issues?

I think using hydrogen and high-temperature process heat to manufacture more convenient chemical energy carriers would be a better idea, such as ammonia, which can be manufactured from hydrogen (i.e. split from water) and nitrogen (from atmosphere). Ammonia can be liquefied easily by modest pressurization, it can be used as a fuel in modified internal combusion engines and, ironically, it contains twice as much hydrogen per unit volume than liquid H2! Other options could be to pull CO2 from the atmosphere, which can be done quite easily, and use hydrogen to thermochemically manufacture synfuels that can be used in our existing liquid fuels infrastructure. I assume hydrocarbon synfuels derived from water and air would be expensive; but, they could be manufactured for essential applications such as aviation, trans-oceanic shipping and heavy-truck transport in a net carbon-neutral manner if nuclear-generated heat is used to drive the process. For most other applications, I think electricity could fit the bill, especially rail (long range heavy freight and urban commuter), PHEVs (extended range personal transport), BEVs (short range personal transport).


dont the limitations that we now face in hydrogen transportation need to be required before we can make it our primary transportation energy source. I haven'[t read the report but does he mention the problem with this? I am a proponent of nuclear to be the underbelly of our domestic energy, and with a robust energy base could we consider energy to power our transport instead of hydrogen.


I haven’t had a chance to get this yet, and several people have already mentioned water, but it’s worth being a little more explicit.

This is a map of
Green River Oil Shale.

The Green River is a big tributary of the Colorado River, which of course :

a) Is heavily overcommitted, such that very little water actually makes it to Mexico.

b) Has usage heavily controlled by a plethora of inter-state and international agreements. All the water they’d want to use for shale oil is already spoken for.
Google: western water wars

Sayeth Wikipedia Colorado River entry:
“Several cities such as Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Bernardino, San Diego, Phoenix, and Tucson have aqueducts leading all the way back to the Colorado River. One such aqueduct is the Central Arizona Project (“CAP”) canal, which was begun in the 1970s and finished in the 1990s. The canal begins at Parker Dam and runs all the way to Phoenix and then Tucson to supplement those cities’ water needs.”

c) Is in an area,which due to AGW, will be getting *less* rain, i.e., due to Hadley Cell circulation changes.

Hence: if there were any chance of shale oil getting going in any serious fashion, say in WY, if it didn’t get stopped by legal means, I’m afraid the CA National Guard would be there to say otherwise, along with AZ, NV, NM, and probably CO & UT.

Taking US Western shale oil seriously is *not* a credibility-enhancer, because it shows a total lack of understanding about water in the US West.


Regarding water contamination for shale oils, Wical says they’d need to put a freeze wall around the processing site (this has been common practice for a century in oil exploration). As I understand it, the in situ ‘cooking’ and extraction of oil doesn’t involve much water use, unlike ex situ mining/processing method. Some details here:

Not defending shale oil processing methods, just pointing out facts.


Isn’t it true that the energy volume density of hydrogen is abysmal, and the energy costs of high-pressure compression or liquefaction are quite high?

As an energy carrier, lH2 is better than lO3. You’ve got to give it that.

Ammonia can be liquefied easily by modest pressurization, it can be used as a fuel in modified internal combusion engines and, ironically, it contains twice as much hydrogen per unit volume than liquid H2!

Not sure it’s quite twice, or anyway, not twice the energy, because some has to be put in to get the H free of the N. Here is the upshot.

(How fire can be domesticated)


Ammonia has been used as fuel, although I couldn’t say exactly where or when. Not recently.

As above noted — darker cells in the chart are better — 2.8 volumes of liquid ammonia gives the same energy as one volume of a typical gasoline hydrocarbon, if the ammonia burns to water vapour and nitrogen and the hydrocarbon burns to water vapour and CO2.

On a hot day, the tank, in addition to being large, must contain up to around 200 psi of vapour pressure. (NIST tables say 14.24 bar at 310 K, at body temperature.)

(How fire can be domesticated)


One request for all: cite as best you can?

Assume that people reading this will need to be convinced and teaching them how to convince themselves is always good.

And there are surprises. I went looking for Barry’s comment:

> sodium (which essentially doesn’t react with steel at all)

Radioactive contamination measurements of the primary sodium pipes in FBTR by gamma spectrometry

Gamma spectrometric measurements were carried out in the primary sodium pipes of FBTR, twice during shut down state of the reactor with sodium circulating at 180 °C and once after draining the primary sodium from pipes. … The radionuclides observed before draining of sodium are 54Mn, 58Co and 60Co due to corrosion products ….

But this isn’t bad news, it’s important information giving an idea what happens.

Fuels for sodium-cooled fast reactors: US perspective

The US experience with mixed oxide, metal, and mixed carbide fuels is substantial …. All three types have been demonstrated capable of fuel utilization at or above 200 GWd/MTHM. To varying degrees, life-limiting phenomena for each type have been identified and investigated, and there are no disqualifying safety-related fuel behaviors. All three fuel types appear capable of meeting requirements of sodium-cooled fast reactor fuels, with reliability of mixed oxide and metal fuel well established. Improvements in irradiation performance of cladding and duct alloys have been a key development in moving these fuel designs toward higher-burnup potential.

And we can get somewhere _from_ there — which is an encouraging thought:

Building on knowledge base of sodium cooled fast spectrum reactors to develop materials technology for fusion reactors

Abstract includes (excerpt follows):

The alloys 316L(N) and Mod. 9Cr–1Mo steel are the major structural materials for fabrication of structural components in sodium cooled fast reactors (SFRs). Various factors influencing the mechanical behaviour of these alloys and different modes of deformation and failure in SFR systems, their analysis and the simulated tests performed on components for assessment of structural integrity and the applicability of RCC-MR code for the design and validation of components are highlighted. … Weldability problems associated with 316L(N) and Mo. 9Cr–1Mo are briefly discussed.

The utilization of artificial neural network models for prediction of creep rupture life and delta-ferrite in austenitic stainless steel welds is described.

The usage of non-destructive examination techniques in characterization of deformation, fracture and various microstructural features in SFR materials is briefly discussed. Most of the experience gained on SFR systems could be utilized in developing science and technology for fusion reactors. Summary of the current status of knowledge on various aspects of fission and fusion systems with emphasis on cross fertilization of research is presented.


Mr Cowan, according to the previously referenced website: “Ammonia has 52% of the energy density of gasoline, and is over 50% more energy dense per gallon than cryogenic liquid hydrogen”.


Barry:re shale oil

I assume you know TheOilDrum?
Try article by Robert Rapier (knowledgable) and following discussion. See also Charlie Hall & co on shale oil.

People have long used freeze techniques for *drilling* shafts, which are relatively small, and generally, when construction is done, they can turn the freezers off, as they are used more to ease construction than to protect the environment.

The Shell technique requires freezing a wall up to 3000 feet deep (I think they’re starting with 1000-2000), around a much bigger area.
It takes a while to freeze.
Then it is 3-4 years of extraction.
Then, you have to keep it frozen for a while, until the extraction area cools enough that letting groundwater back in doesn’t cause problems.

I think you are talking about 4-6 years at least, and if anyone does freeze walls of this scale, for that length of time, I haven’t found them.

It *uses* less water than ex situ processes, but it takes a lot of energy to protect the groundwater, because if there’s a leak, you contaminate the water for millions of people.


Although Neil Howes found a somewhat critical article on the Honda Clarity, it was not sufficiently critical to ignore the unrealistic range claim that is usual in this field. (Not as bad as for a GM vehicle a few years back. Its range in FCEV km was 400, but in real kilometres that turned out to be 184.)

The Honda Clarity goes 310 to 320 km on a tank.

Barry Brook refers to a “high efficiency of fuel cells (about 2.7 times that of the internal combustion engine)”. This turns out to be imaginary. When one tries to find, for a particular automotive fuel cell, the kilowatt-hours of DC electricity per kg of consumed hydrogen, no evidence turns up that this output exceeds or even matches the driveshaft output a diesel car motor could have derived from the same hydrogen.

This makes unsurprising the fact that the range attained by the Clarity is only 10-20 km more than what the BMW 520h was doing, 30 years ago, on internal hydrogen combustion.

(How fire can be domesticated)


That’s very promising Hank, if the ‘waste’ (once-through spent fuel) solution is recognised as fast reactors [it’s really the only other solution, if Yucca is out, and of course the most useful!]


Well, that’s why I’ve been asking if the idea is feasible — can the Gen4 waste-to-fuel processing plant be built _apart_from_ and _before_ having a fast reactor?

Or does that itself cause a gross proliferation problem, so the fast reactor has to be right there inside the same big fence to immediately burn the waste as it’s processed?

Since there’s going to be a lot of waste piling up now.

I wonder if there is any lobbyist actually putting this kind of idea forward — is there anyone lined up to make money off any of these ideas? Last I heard GE (do they even still own the PRISM design?) was having some financial problems.


A considerably hotter fast reactor for hydrogen production — but this increases the need for passive cooling:

Abstract ─ The Advanced High-Temperature Reactor (AHTR) is a low-pressure, liquid-salt-
cooled high-temperature reactor for the production of electricity and hydrogen. The high-
temperature (950°C) variant is defined as the liquid-salt-cooled very high-temperature reactor (LS-VHTR). The AHTR has the same safety goals and uses the same graphite-matrix coated-particle fuel as do modular high-temperature gas-cooled reactors. However, the large AHTR power output [2400 to 4000 MW(t)] implies the need for a different type of passive decay-heat-removal system. Because the AHTR is a low-pressure, liquid-cooled reactor like sodium-cooled reactors, similar types of decay-heat-removal systems can be used. Three classes of passive decay heat removal systems have been identified: the reactor vessel auxiliary cooling system which is similar to that proposed for the General Electric S-PRISM sodium-cooled fast reactor; the direct reactor auxiliary cooling system, which is similar to that used in the Experimental Breeder Reactor-II; and a new pool reactor auxiliary cooling system. These options are described and compared.

… coolant outlet temperatures may be as high as 950°C, with higher core outlet temperatures under accident conditions. Like that of the MHTGR, the AHTR neutronics safety case depends upon allowing the reactor to go to higher temperatures under transient conditions to shut down the reactor, using the negative temperature coefficient of the reactor core. The limited availability of high-temperature materials
for components places significant limits on the design options. ….

Click to access 124613.pdf

Conference Paper Number 6055
Session 3.08: Liquid-Salt-Cooled High-Temperature Reactors-II
2006 International Congress on the Advances in Nuclear Power Plants (ICAPP’06)
Embedded Topical in the 2006 American Nuclear Society Annual Meeting
American Nuclear Society
June 4–8, 2006


Hank Roberts – “A considerably hotter fast reactor for hydrogen production — but this increases the need for passive cooling:”

An even better high temperature reactor with none of the problems of nuclear:

Yes this one produced zinc which still could be a good energy carrier however the high temperatures could easily be used for hydrogen. Not working at night does not matter and at least it has been demonstrated in a working pilot plant.


Hank Roberts – “A considerably hotter fast reactor for hydrogen production — but this increases the need for passive cooling:”

Sorry first link did not work properly so here is some of the text:

“Hydrogen, the most plentiful element in the universe, has long been viewed as an attractive candidate for becoming the pollution-free fuel of the future.

However, nearly all hydrogen fuel used today is produced by means of expensive processes that require combustion of polluting fossil fuels. Moreover, storing and transporting hydrogen is extremely difficult and costly.

In a breakthrough that has dramatic implications for energy use worldwide, Israeli researchers have shown that hydrogen fuel can be produced with the help of sunlight – propelling the dream forward of using hydrogen as a ‘green’ fuel.

The innovative solar technology developed at Weizmann Institute of Science that may offer an environmentally sound solution to the production of hydrogen fuel, has been successfully tested on a large scale, and also promises to facilitate the storage and transportation of hydrogen.

The chemical process behind the technology was originally developed at Weizmann on a scale of several kilowatts. It was then scaled up to 300 kilowatts in collaboration with scientists from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland, Institut de Science et de Genie des Materiaux et Procedes – Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in France, and the ScanArc Plasma Technologies AB in Sweden. The project is supported by the European Union’s FP5 program.”

This one may work OK

Also reading it more closely it does produce hydrogen and also zinc metal which can be used in the zinc-air fuel cells that I posted about before.


Currently the US imports about 60% of the oil it uses. The US could cut its oil use by 60% over the next 12 years by building 500 or so nuclear reactors, using them to produce hydrogen, building a hydrogen infrastructure and building one hundred million or so hydrogen powered cars. Or it could do the same by placing a steeply curved sales tax on new cars and heating devices based upon how much CO2 they emit so that burning oil for heating is gradually phased out and very few Americans buy a new car that gets less than 15 kilometers per liter. There are already many cars that are this fuel efficient on the market. At today’s prices cutting oil use by 60% should save the United States over $150 billion dollars a year, or over $500 per person and would be much easier and cheaper than trying to build 500 or so nuclear reactors and hydrogen infrastructure and vehicles.


can the Gen4 waste-to-fuel processing plant be built _apart_from_ and _before_ having a fast reactor?

Or does that itself cause a gross proliferation problem, so the fast reactor has to be right there inside the same big fence to immediately burn the waste as it’s processed?

Since there’s going to be a lot of waste piling up now.

Not, of course, piling up. When it is old and producing little heat, it can exit cooling pools and go into concrete casks that sit on football-field-sized concrete aprons, one deep or less. Oil- and natgas-tax-funded governments consider these casks to be interim, but there is no physical interim-ness to them.

according to the previously referenced website: “Ammonia has 52% of the energy density of gasoline, and is over 50% more energy dense per gallon than cryogenic liquid hydrogen”.

I suspect they’re using the higher heat of combustion.

(Hydrogen-containing fuels have a higher heat of combustion, sometimes abbreviated HHV, higher heating value, that includes the produced water’s heat of condensation from vapour to liquid. Since no transport motor condenses its hydrogen ash, measuring fuels by their HHV is always misleading in a motor fuel context.)

Another site I found correctly used the LHV, but overstated the energy density by 25 percent, apparently by assuming the stuff is as dense as petrol. Its true density at 25°C, and other temperatures, is given by NIST.

(B: A Better Energy Carrier than H?)


> solar … hydrogen … zinc

Same process I think — any heat source works. Solar’s a good heat source where available.


By a 5:4 decision in the US Supreme Court, hey, what’s a fish worth compared to keeping a power plant cool? You get to decide …..

Apr 1, 2009 … The Supreme Court decided that cost-benefit analysis can be used to choose cooling technology at nuke plants.


And …

April 2

WASHINGTON — The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission voted Wednesday to allow the Oyster Creek nuclear reactor in South Jersey to operate for another 20 years….

The … plant, in Lacey Township in Ocean County, is the nation’s oldest nuclear reactor, having opened in 1969, and rust had corroded its steel liner. The liner would contain radioactive steam in an emergency and supports hundreds of tons of water in a pool above the reactor during routine refueling.

… engineers at the regulatory commission concluded that the rust was not progressing and that enough metal remained for safe operation.

Since 2000, the commission has allowed extensions of initial 40-year licenses for 51 other reactors in the country…..

Some commission officials have even discussed the possibility of a second round of extensions that would allow reactors to operate for up to 80 years. The commission’s position is that the initial licenses were limited to 40 years to address antitrust concerns and future economic considerations — not because of the reactors’ physical limits.


[…] Hydrogen is often touted as the obvious future energy carrier (other than electricity), but it faces substantial technological and logistical obstacles, such as high conversion losses (60 to 80% reduction compared to original energy input), extreme volatility, energy required for compression to a liquified form, piping embrittlement and leakage, storage volume problems, the need to construct a new, massive distributional network, and so on. The problems are detailed here and here (but for a counter-critique of some points, see here). […]


All this talk of a hydrogen economy has my blood up. Just think for a moment about the things nukies criticise renewables for, namely over-build, and massive unnecessary grid upgrades to the so called ‘smart grid’ and ‘super-grid’ just to try and get wind and solar to the places that need them.

The scoffing, the derision, the costs! Oh the humanity!

But when it comes to our personal cars, we forget all that do we?

Even the hydrogen economy wiki shows how inefficient hydrogen is.

In charging electric cars we only lose 15% of the electricity.

With an electric vehicle we just charge the battery with electricity, and then use that for forward motion.
In a hydrogen economy we’ve got to gather and control vast quantities of water, split it into oxygen and hydrogen (using heaps of energy), control the hydrogen as we compress it down tiny spaces at incredibly high (and dangerous!) PSI, stick it in a very special tank, and then what do we do? We run it through a fuel cell (which loses more energy) to get what? ELECTRICITY AGAIN! Are you kidding me?

Battery Electric Vehicles only lose 15% of the energy, but the ‘hydrogen economy’ only gets 25% of the energy! Do we really want to over-build nuclear power plants 3 times the current grid capacity just to split water and shove it into tanks? AND there’s the chicken and egg infrastructure challenge. AND all the normal hydrogen challenges, leakage, etc.

Whereas about 70% of American cars could potentially be powered by the existing grid if charged overnight in off-peak periods.

So the choice between hydrogen and electric cars is a choice between building out something like 3 times the nukes, or just an additional 30% or 40% of the current grid capacity, to be oil free in our personal vehicles.

Hydrogen will most probably be a niche fuel used for trucking, mining, and construction. Heavy vehicles won’t run off dinky little lithium batteries, not yet anyway.

Oh, and while we’re discussing 12 year time periods, we could also be discussing suburban retrofitting. 20 years of careful city zoning could do away with the need for as many cars in the first place!


Hydrogen will most probably be a niche fuel used for trucking, mining, and construction.

Monkeys will most probably fly out of my butt.

No-one has ever dreamed of spending his own money on a hydrogen fuel-cell-electric car, but hydrogen burns. Many have dreamed of buying an internal hydrogen combustion 12-banger. 27 men, IIRC, have ridden an oxyhydrogen torch from low Earth orbit to the Moon. (Getting from the ground to the low orbit was a job for oxy-kerosene. With only slide-rules, the Apollo engineers still knew what they were doing.)

Liquid hydrogen at 20 to 25 K is about twice more compact than optimally compact 300-K (room temperature) gaseous hydrogen. Gasoline is nine times more compact, i.e., the spaces the hydrogen is compressed into are not tiny, despite the stupid pressure.

The vapour pressure of liquid hydrogen at 20.28 K is 1 bar, so unlike a tank of compressed ambient-temperature hydrogen, an lH2 tank cannot explode underwater. Integrating liquid hydrogen tankage into a well-put-together car that burns the stuff, and can go 300 km before refuelling, is decades away, however.

You may recall recent discussion on this site of nuclear oil generation: liquid hydrocarbon that neither recently, nor ever, was part of an animal or plant, and shares recently-grown oil’s attribute of being produced carbon-neutrally (but not its prohibitive impact on the environment and on food prices). Obviously this would be a better energy carrier than hydrogen, and trucking, etc., operations could use the trucks they have now.

So synthetic oil is a better energy carrier than hydrogen. Is it the only one?

Which is better: a heat-engine-based car that wastefully trails heat behind it as it zips off the dealer’s lot, or a car that, lacking internal combustion, is not only more efficient in principle, but, by virtue of staying on that lot, is hugely less consumptive of fuel in practice?

(How fire can be domesticated)


As a New Urbanist I’ve definitely got to vote for the car that stays at the car-yard, but that’s a bad analogy because I’m talking about reducing the need for cars and the overall car market. Maintaining roads, car-parks, and mining and building a car may together be as much as half of the Co2 impact of cars! If we’re going to build a car, we may as well use it. But with clever city planning, we could drastically reduce the need for cars. It’s already happening around the world, especially in Portland Oregon!

But not sure how to read your tone about hydrogen. You seem to be focussing in on the phrase “tight spaces” at the expense of clear communication about the broader energy picture of a hydrogen economy. So sure, let’s all fly in SaturnV’s across Australia! ;-) But I’m not sure where you fall on the choice between hydrogen cars and straight electric cars. 5 minute charges to 90% capacity have arrived, and others like Better Place of course have the battery swap option. Take your pick. I prefer to charge off a cheap deal with off-peak electricity overnight, where half to 70% of a nation’s cars could be charged from existing capacity.

This, too, is already happening. People drive home, plug in, go inside, go to bed, and at some point in the night their charging box timer clicks on and the car charges. Future boxes might be plugged into the net to charge at the absolutely best moments for both grid and consumer.

The sheer energy and infrastructure required to kick start a full-on hydrogen economy make it mythical! From a UK context this time:

Even at the current level of activity, road traffic would consume more than 3 times all the electricity we generate to produce a hydrogen equivalent. With the end of North Sea gas looming and as the de-commissioning of nuclear power gets under way, electricity will be at a premium and only rail can make use of the limited amount of renewable electricity efficiently.

I’d also prefer to see trucks onto trains, but that’s also a big infrastructure challenge. With 97% of freight around Australia moved by truck, it’s a real challenge.

And once someone in government makes the call, that could be it. If they make the call for hydrogen trucking between our cities, then that might be a huge opportunity lost, and we’ll forever pay the cost as the money will have been spent. Electric rail seems to be the order of the day!

If we’re just talking about hydrogen delivery trucks operating within a given city, then I’m probably happy with that. Intercity? Probably not a good idea.


… I’m not sure where you fall on the choice between hydrogen cars and straight electric cars. 5 minute charges to 90% capacity have arrived, and others like Better Place of course have the battery swap option. Take your pick.

Neither is available here, and I suspect neither is available where you are. How are you getting around?

This photoshop montage illustrates what I think. In the foreground, we have the world’s whole fleet of operator-bought hydrogen cars. Behind them, we have a Tesla Roadster, one of about 1000 that have been bought and are being used. It’s a pure electric car, and it’s better than hydrogen.

Behind that, something better still: a combustion-only Corolla. Many millions are in service. As above said, nuclear plants could be rigged to provide them carbon-neutral petrol.

(How fire can be domesticated)


@ Barry:
I’m wondering if you have the time, interest, and / or cash to get up to Portland, Oregon? Maybe you could meet with some of the New Urbanist activists up there and hear their thoughts on cutting energy use and CO2 emissions by clever city planning? Such a trip would no doubt also be tax deductible given your job description. ;-) City Rezoning can have remarkable results in a decade or 2.

Anyway, what do you think about the future of cars (even if they are ‘disciplined’ in a Portland-scenario?) Those cars that we do have… will they be Boron, hydrogen, EV, nuclear synfuel or other?


I’d also prefer to see trucks onto trains, but that’s also a big infrastructure challenge. With 97% of freight around Australia moved by truck, it’s a real challenge.

Me too. If a move in that direction had been started some years ago, I might not have had to spend two months in hospital this year, and my mother and great aunt might still be alive.


Hi Finrod,
Good to have you back, and I hope you’ll hang around and comment on stuff more.

Words fail me when I remember your experience this year. I hope you can ‘grieve well’, whatever that means!

@ Everyone:

I’m confused about rail at the moment. The ABC’s 2024 Dreaming: Beyond Gridlock argued that increased use of rail would not only save lives, but that it would save our GDP somewhere between 2-4% in lost productivity in traffic jams, insurance claims, etc.

Yet Crikey critiqued High Speed rail as out of the question in Australia because of our vast distances and small population. So is this just my own ignorance about the different costs of High Speed rail versus standard rail, or is there something more fundamental going on about Rail in this country? And how much does the taxpayer subsidise the trucking industry via lovely 2 lane each way dual carriageways for them to drive on? We can’t rightly condemn rail needing subsidies if trucks also rely on it, but neither can we get too self-righteous against trucking if everyone else wants to use highways??


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